The Best Sights on São Miguel
by Katie McCabe | @awelltraveledpair | March 6th, 2022
I saw an advertisement for the Azores back in 2010, and I thought it was one of the coolest places I had ever seen. The picture was of a volcanic crater surrounded by a small town, hiking trails, lakes, and the ocean. I had never seen anything like it before, and even though I had no idea where the Azores were located, I knew I would visit one day.
Fast forward to January 2022 when John and I were visiting mainland Portugal. Our plan was to road trip south to north, hitting places, such as The Algarve, Lisbon, Porto, and Braga. I literally had to stop and remind myself that the Azores were only a quick two hour flight from Lisbon or Porto. With that in mind, I instantly booked a flight for John and me to Ponta Delgada - the Azores' regional capital city located on the island of São Miguel. The time had finally come to explore this stunning place, and I was thrilled!
We were in awe before we even landed on São Miguel. From our plane window, we could see everything from rolling green hills and blue lakes to volcanic beaches and tiny, explorable islands. The Azores almost didn't seem real. I mean, how can one place have so much natural beauty? It's absolutely incredible, and honestly, pictures don't do it justice.
John and I planned to spend a week there, but we ended up staying for almost two months. We couldn't get enough of it. We hiked along volcanic craters and to waterfalls, we soaked in natural hot springs in the ocean, we cruised the busy streets of downtown Ponta Delgada, and we ate local dishes that were cooked underground in a caldeira. We had some of the most unique travel experiences during this trip, and frankly, they’ll probably remain some of our favorite travel memories of all time.
If you're thinking about visiting São Miguel, please do. There really isn't any other place like it in the world. And when you do, don't miss these fifteen sights.
Acting as the regional capital, Ponta Delgada is the gateway to the Azores. It’s also located on the most popular island São Miguel, and it houses the largest airport in all the islands. After a quick two hour flight from Lisbon or Porto, or a five hour flight from Boston, visitors arrive to a beautiful city that’s filled with ancient cobblestone streets, Gothic-style churches, and the famous three-arched city gates. This is also the best place to find a hotel to stay in or a restaurant to dine at.
If you’ve seen a picture of the Azores, it’s most likely of Sete Cidades. This three mile wide volcanic crater is where people come to hike, swim, and see some of the prettiest sights in all of the Azores. It’s an easy twenty minute drive from Ponta Delgada and it’s free to visit, but a lot of people opt for a guided tour. Whether you visit on your own or with a tour group, do not miss this gem. It’s breathtaking!
Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego
Someone once described the Azores at Europe’s Hawaii. After seeing Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego, I knew exactly what that person was saying. I actually found half of the island to be like Ireland and the other half to be like Hawaii. Regardless, Miradouro Ponta do Sossego is absolutely stunning, and it’s an easy side of the road attraction to visit.
Miradouro do Castelo Branco
One of our favorite spots on São Miguel is definitely Castelo Branco. The ancient castle remains date back to the 13th century and can be viewed after a short walk or drive down a bumpy dirt road. Visitors can also climb the interior stairs for sweeping views from the top of the castle. It’s free to visit, and this is one sight you don’t want to miss!
Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões
Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões looks more like a movie set than a nature park. I mean, it’s exquisite. Filled with waterfalls, nature trails, swimming holes, and an abundance of greenery, this park certainly needs to be on your list. And it’s free to visit! That’s one of my favorite things about São Miguel. So many of the best sights, like this one, are free. Now, there’s no reason to miss this beauty.
Established in 1883, this family-run plantation offers self-guided tours around their mesmerizing tea fields and factory. Visitors get an inside look on how tea is grown and produced, and then can purchase tea or souvenirs from the gift shop. Tours are free and Gorreana is open seven days a week.
Located on the eastern side of the island is the picturesque Faial da Terra. A mere 300 people live here and that’s what makes this place so pretty. It’s untouched. It's so natural. And it's a must-see!
Tip: If you're hungry before or after visiting this gem, stop by Pastelaria Pizzaria Guida for some delicious pizza and homemade pastries.
Parque Terra Nostra could possibly be the most popular place on São Miguel, other than Sete Cidades, of course. This gorgeous park is filled with over 600 species of plants and flowers, as well as some unique thermal pools. Heated by volcanic rocks, the water inside the pools sits at a relaxing 104°F and is orange in color due to its high iron content. The park and pool are open daily from 10:30 until 16:30 and admission costs €10 per person.
Note: It is advised to wear dark colored swimwear to avoid orange stains from the thermal water.
Sitting high on a hill, overlooking the vast ocean and quaint Vila Franca do Campo town below, is the lovely Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz. The classic white chapel was built in the 18th century and can be reached after climbing two intricate staircases.
If you do make it up to Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz, you'll be able to see a small, idyllic island just offshore from the town of Vila Franca do Campo. This tiny islet can be reached by kayak any time of the year, or by tour boat during the summer months. Visitors can stay on the islet for the day, while swimming, snorkeling, and enjoying one of the best places in the Azores.
Pineapple is one of the most popular foods grown in São Miguel. At Plantacao Ananases A Arruda, visitors can taste fresh pineapple chunks, jam, liquor, and juice while taking a tour throughout the facility. Entry and tastings are free of charge, so be sure to purchase a little something while you're there to support this great business.
Another beautiful church on São Miguel is Ermida da Mãe de Deus. Located near downtown Ponta Delgada, this Neo-Baroque style church is known for its black basalt cornerstones and white plaster, as well as its towering hilltop position. It's an easy visit from the center of Ponta Delgada, making it one of the most popular attractions on the island.
Another side of the road viewpoint is Miradouro da Vigia das Baleias das Feteiras. After a quick fifteen minute drive from Ponta Delgada, visitors arrive at one of the prettiest lookout points on the island. It's also a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch due to the great views and abundance of picnic tables.
Ponta da Ferraria is one of the coolest places on the island. It's a natural thermal-water pool located in the ocean. In order to arrive at Ponta da Ferraria, visitors must walk five to ten minutes along a boardwalk and then another couple of minutes over basalt rocks before climbing down a small ladder into the ocean. Be sure to only swim during high tide and when the ocean waters are calm. During low tide, the temperatures can be too hot, and during rough sea days, people can get injured. Be safe and swim at your own risk.
Mosteiros is an adorable beach town known for its volcanic rocks, epic surfing, and beautiful sunsets. There are also a lot of local dogs that the community cares for, so if you like pups, you'll definitely enjoy Mosteiros. This ended up being one of our favorite spots on the island because of the secluded and relatively quiet beach, great lunch spots, and all of the dog friends, of course.
When to Go: The Azores are a year-round destination, however, the months of October through April can bring an abundance of rain. For that reason, most people visit during the drier months of May through September. We visited in January, February, and March and got very lucky with beautiful weather almost the entire time, plus there weren't many other tourists around, which was fantastic! The islands are pretty temperate throughout the year, with January and February being the coldest months and July and August being the warmest. If you visit in winter, expect daytime high's to sit around 60°F/16°C, and around 75°F/24°C in summer. If you do go in summer, be sure to book hotels and activities early, as they do sell out faster than in the winter months.
Where to Stay: There are lots of great hotels to choose from on São Miguel, but we ended up staying in Airbnbs during our entire stay. We did stay at the Hotel Marina Atlântico on the first night we arrived and loved it. It's located right in downtown Ponta Delgada, so walking to nearby attractions and restaurants was a breeze. We just found that staying in Airbnbs around the island was a much better way to immures ourselves in the nature and beauty of the island. I highly recommend that you do the same. One Airbnb in particular that we loved was this one. If you get a chance to stay here, do it! The location is gorgeous and the host was amazing. If you would rather stay in a hotel, then I recommend checking TripAdvisor to find a good option.
Portuguese is the official language of the Azores, but English is widely-spoken.
The euro is the official currency of the Azores, and be sure to carry some cash with you at all times, as a lot of small businesses don't accept credit card.
There are nine islands that make up the Azores - São Miguel, Santa Maria, Faial, Pico, São Jorge, Terceira, Graciosa, Flores, and Corvo. Each one offers its own version on paradise.
Be sure to try a local dish called cozido das Furnas while on São Miguel. It's a traditional stew composed of different Portuguese meats, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots, and it's cooked underground in a caldera for five hours in the thermal spring town of Furnas. The best place to try cozido is hands-down Restaurante Tony's.
If you're traveling from the USA, SATA Azores Airlines offers non-stop flights from Boston and NYC to Ponta Delgada. If you're traveling from Europe, both SATA Azores Airlines and TAP Air Portugal offer frequent and quick flights to the islands.